Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Taking Care of Yourself First

I honestly don't know what it is, but people love to talk to me.  They come to me with their dreams, their fears, their problems, and their celebrations.  They come to me when they are sad and no one else understands or they can't figure out what it is they are feeling.  What do I do?  I listen.  I take it all in, then I respond.  This response may simply be a hug and a reassurance that I am always there to talk to.  It may be a vote of support or encouragement, or I may give some advice, but I rarely sugarcoat things.  In return, I now have several close friends who I trust to tell me the truth, even when I don't like it.  It is especially frustrating when they use my own advice against me.  In this case, the advice is:

"You have to take care of yourself if you want to care for anyone else."

This is one of the pieces of advice I hand out on nearly a daily basis.  So many times, we put the needs of others ahead of ourselves. The result is exhaustion and illness which manifests in the inability to take care of those things you saw as more important.  For example, you have to work to pay for the house over your family's heads and to put food on the table.  You are super stressed out and tired because you have been losing sleep over an important project or task.  In fact, this task is so important, that you can't possibly consider taking a couple hours off work to refresh yourself and relax.  After all, you have to bring home that paycheck and those 2 or 3 hours just can't be sacrificed.

The problem is the stress lowers your immune system and lack of sleep only exacerbates the problem.  Guess what happens next.  If you thought "you get sick," you are right!  You didn't take care of yourself, so your body couldn't maintain peak efficiency and now you are sick.  Only, an illness rarely lasts a mere 2 or 3 hours.  Instead, that time you were afraid of "wasting" has now become 2 or 3 days instead of 2 or 3 hours.  I don't know about you, but even when I push through illness, I am rarely more than half as productive as I am healthy.  So instead of losing 2 or 3 hours for refreshing and relaxing, I am losing the equivalent of 2 or 3 half days by being sick.  Assuming you work 8 hour days and your production is about half what it should be, you just lost 8-12 hours of production compared to 2-3 hours.  Congratulations!  You quadrupled your down time!

Well, running the numbers, it makes sense to do the 2 or 3 hours.  So what is the problem?  Emotions.  Feelings of guilt, longing, sadness, jealousy, and fear keep up from doing what we know is healthiest for us.  Fear of disappointing a boss, coworker, or family member; guilt from not helping a friend in need; sadness that you might miss something fun or exciting; jealousy that someone else can just go and go and never wear down; a longing to meet an unhealthy version of a perfect you.

Today, I stayed in bed all day and played on the internet and studied.  I pushed my body farther than normal the past 4 days and I could feel the results in stiff and sore joints.  Emotionally, there was a lot of crappy news that hit also.  I knew my body and mind needed the break to recharge, but when a friend called on my help, I found myself torn.  One of the things that I both love and hate about myself is my incredible desire to fix everything for everyone.  That quality directly conflicts with my need to rest.  Though I believe I did the right thing in taking the day to recharge, I feel incredibly guilty I was unable to help that friend today.  Taking care of yourself is not the easiest thing to do, but it is something that has to be done and I am actively trying to live my own advice.